Plans to transform the dormant Poughkeepsie-Highland Rail Bridge into the world’s longest public pedestrian and bicycle bridge are advancing after the results of in-depth structural and economic studies were released at a public hearing in Poughkeepsie, New York, on January 9. Walkway Over the Hudson, the nonprofit owner of the 120-year-old bridge, unveiled the results of the studies just hours after Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his commitment to the project in his State of the State Address, declaring it “the first major investment in our parks leading up to the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s first voyage up the Hudson River.”
The eight-week structural inspection of the 6,768-foot-long bridge was made possible by a $1.5 million grant from the Millbrook, New York–based Dyson Foundation. Peter Melewski, a principal with Bergmann Associates, the architecture and engineering firm contracted for the inspection and design of the project, said the results were a “pleasant surprise” and, when compared to an inspection done in the early 1980s, show a “slow rate of corrosion” to the bridge’s steel skeleton. Prior to this above-ground inspection, McLaren Engineering Group conducted an underwater investigation of the timber caissons in 2006 that revealed the piers to be in good condition.
The economic impact study, conducted by the development firm Camoin Associates, determined that the project would create 258 local jobs and increase state and local tax revenue by $1.3 million. The walkway will be “a great tourist attraction,” said Fred Schaeffer, chairman of Walkway over the Hudson. “People will come from all over to view the Hudson Valley.” Though Bergmann’s design is still being refined, it may include glass panels embedded in the decking that will allow views down to the water below.
Bergmann Associates is scheduled to release the final design report late in 2008. Completion of the walkway, expected in 2009, is estimated to cost $25 million, with funding provided by both the state and private partners.